Beth Chapman, creator of Clinton’s Wedding Row and owner of The White Dress by the shore, found the perfect dress for her customer: a silk-lined lace gown with a bolero jacket.
“I love this dress. I just want my mother to see it,” the bride-to-be said.
Nothing unusual there, except the mom was in her eighties! Her 65-year-old daughter was getting married for the first time.
Helping to create a special wedding for older brides — whether it’s their first trip down the aisle or an “encore” performance — is one of the joys of Chapman’s job, she says.
“Older brides tend not to be bridezillas,” Chapman says. “They realize it’s all about the marriage, not just the wedding. It’s about what happens after that day.
Older women also tend to be more confident in their choices, Chapman says. “Brides over 40 tend to know what they want and don’t feel the pressure to cave to other people’s opinions and expectations,” she says.
“With any bride, the most important thing is that their gown reflects their personal style. The thing I appreciate the most about older brides is that they are more mature and more secure with their personal style,” Chapman says.
Old-fashioned rules about more mature brides and second weddings — the bride should wear pantsuits or only wear cream - have gone by the wayside.
Still, Chapman tries to steer “brides of a certain age” into simpler silhouettes. She recalled the 60ish woman who wanted a ball gown with draping and flowers all over it.
“In my mind it was a dress for someone in their 20s. It was over the top for even a 20-year-old, nevermind a 60-year-old. While I hated to lose the sale, I was OK with it because I couldn’t have people at the wedding saying, ‘Who sold her this dress?’ But she wanted to feel like a princess, so she went off and bought her ball gown somewhere else.”
What you wear at your wedding should emulate your usual look, she says. “If someone has a classic style, they should choose a classic gown. If someone has a funkier, more artsy style, they should choose that type of gown. The last thing you want to do is walk down the aisle and have your fiancé not recognize you because you’re wearing something that’s not really you.”
She prefers “something with a sleeve or a strap for older brides. I particularly like V-necks, which are more sophisticated and elegant. A very severe sweetheart neckline may not be the best choice.”
For the skirt Chapman says go with a little shape that creates a sophisticated and elegant silhouette. “I don’t recommend going with a fuller a-line. It tends to be a little bit young. No ball skirt for older girls,” she says.
Karen Worobow, owner of Stars in Avon, agrees. “We generally steer older brides toward something with clean and simple lines. I don’t think they need ball gowns.”
Worobow helped a friend, who was getting married for the first time at age 49, to choose a gown. “She waited a long time for her prince and I really wanted her to have the whole experience,” Worobow says. But instead of a conventional wedding gown, her friend decided to wear an aubergine dress with a jacket. “It really is whatever they want, and whatever they see themselves wearing,” she says.
Worobow’s only rule is that the bride be happy and be the most dressed up person at her wedding.
Second-time-around bride Jane Ormiston of Clinton and San Francisco went online and found four wedding dresses that fit her tall frame. She emailed pictures of the dresses to The White Dress by the shore, near her Clinton home. Chapman called the designers and had them ship the dresses at her own expense.
“When I came in for the appointment she had those and another 10 picked out. I will tell you it was the best retail experience I ever had,” Ormiston says.
She ended up choosing one of her original four — an Anne Barge dress she felt fit her classic style. But wearing the perfect dress didn’t stop her from jumping in the pool at the Napa Valley, Calif. estate where she hosted her wedding for 100 friends and family. About 25 of her guests stayed with her a week before and after the wedding.
“Weddings can be so stressful,” she said. “I didn’t enjoy my first one at all, so I knew I would enjoy this one. After the ceremony I got all the girls in the wedding party and we walked over to the pool and we jumped in!”
“The most important thing to me now is people’s time. Everyone I know has really big lives with kids or career or both,” she says.
The biggest difference between her first wedding at 31 and her recent one at 48 was that she had more than a little girl’s idea of what a bride should be.
And she knew it was the people who would be with her that day, not the elements of a lavish wedding, that would be meaningful.
“Even though we were in the midst of wine country, no one wanted to leave the estate,” she said. Friends took turns cooking and everyone wanted to just be together.
“It was the best two weeks of my life,” she says.
Margaret DeMarino is a free-lance writer based in New Haven.
Photo: Styled by the White Dress by the shore, Photography by Sabine Scherer Photography